Monday, September 30, 2013

Musical Chairs and Occam's Razor

There are two seats out at our Service Desk, two seats for two staff members. One is up higher, one is down lower. When it is my time to go to the Service Desk I'll take whichever spot opens up first, but if you want that spot enough, ask nicely and you can have it. If we arrive together for a shift you can chose because I don't care, and if you don't want to choose I will pick one. It is very simple and I am incredibly mellow and easy going. Ob la di, ob la da. I am the Zen master. All chairs are good. I can find joy in both of these nearly equal spots. All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.

So are we all sorted now? You have your spot? Yes. And I have my spot here. There is great, unbreakable, and magnificent harmony forever at the Service Desk. Om mani padme hum.

Now stay the hell out of my spot! Stay away from my computer! There is absolutely no reason for you to migrate. If I step away from the desk to solve one of our dear patron's problems, and I come back to the desk to find you helping someone at my computer I am going to look at you like you are a psychopath. Yes, a psychopath. That might sound like I am bringing a good deal of non Zen heat to the situation, but no, it is a simple issue of Occam's Razor.

Occam's Razor is a principle that gives greater weight to the simpler hypothesis in competing explanations. In short, the simplest explanation, with the fewest assumptions required, is the most likely one. Space aliens could have beamed into the Library, told you they have installed the secrets of cold fusion onto one of the three (yes, there are three!) Service Desk computers, but if it is not found in ten minutes it will self delete. This is a more complicated explanation for your abandoning the perfectly good and equal computer station you have chosen, and taking mine, than the explanation that says you are psychotic. Nevertheless this "aliens" explanation is, according to Occam's Razor, actually the second most likely. It is forced to go even stranger from there to explain the events.

This doesn't mean that some wildly complex explanation is not true. I'm all ears. Indeed I am eager to hear it. But until you present it, you can have both spots out there. You seem to want them. I'll be in the back, meditating. One does not obtain Zen mastery without practice, loads and loads of practice.

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